COVID-19 vaccines to be made available in Nova Scotia pharmacies
1 new case reported Tuesday in Nova Scotia among record high number of completed tests
Nova Scotia is expanding its COVID-19 vaccination program with prototype clinics in pharmacies, and opening vaccine eligibility to more health-care workers, including dentists and pharmacists.
The province announced the changes Tuesday and reported a single new case of COVID-19.
"We are taking a measured and steady approach to getting vaccines into the arms of Nova Scotians as quickly as possible," Premier Iain Rankin said in a news release.
The first pharmacy-based clinics will open this month in four locations:
- Halifax Regional Municipality and Shelburne, opening March 9.
- Port Hawkesbury, opening March 16.
- Springhill, opening March 23.
Access to vaccination in pharmacies will be by invitation only. Each pharmacy will have 600 doses — enough for 300 people — and they will reach out to existing clients based on age.
The pharmacy program is expected to expand in April. The province is also in talks with physicians about starting clinics in primary care offices.
Vaccine eligibility expands
The province also announced plans to vaccinate more health-care workers.
Anyone who works in a hospital and has patient contact as well as community health-care providers who provide direct patient care will soon receive an invitation to book an appointment.
Workers who fall into that category include:
- Doctors, nurses and continuing care assistants who work in community practice or provide care in the home.
- Dentists, dental assistants and dental hygienists.
- Pharmacists, pharmacy assistants and pharmacy technicians.
Health-care workers in the new category will be further divided by age, in keeping with the province's overall age-based strategy for vaccine rollout. Workers who are 60 and older will be first to receive invitations for vaccination, working back in five-year age increments.
At a technical briefing on Tuesday, health officials said the only health-care workers who have yet to be tapped for vaccination are allied health professionals that don't work in hospital settings, which include physiotherapists, chiropractors and massage therapists.
Those workers will likely become eligible for vaccination around the same time that widespread community vaccination begins. Depending on their age, priority based on their profession could be moot.
Vaccine rollout on track
The province is still expecting all Nova Scotians to have an opportunity to be vaccinated by the end of September.
That target was set at the start of the year and was cast into doubt when vaccine delivery temporarily slowed in January. But vaccine allotments have since rebounded.
By the end of March, the province expects to have received a total of nearly 150,000 doses. Starting in April, vaccine delivery is expected to ramp up significantly, with an additional one million doses arriving between April and June.
Future projections count on additional products becoming available. Nova Scotia currently uses Pfizer-Bio-N-Tech and Moderna vaccines. The AstraZeneca-Oxford product was recently approved by Health Canada, but has yet to arrive in the country.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is not recommended for anyone aged 65 and older, it's less effective than the other two options and it expires in 30 days. At a COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical health officer, said his team is still trying to figure out how Nova Scotia might use the vaccine, given its limitations.
All provinces have to notify the federal government by Thursday whether they want to accept a shipment of AstraZeneca and Strang said he has not yet decided how to advise the premier to respond.
Change to dosing interval expected
Timing for the next phases of vaccine rollout are likely to change based on updated recommendations from the National Advisory Council on Immunization. In Nova Scotia, doses are currently being spaced out by 21 to 28 days, as recommended by the manufacturers.
Some provinces have already extended that in order to get more people partially vaccinated, but Nova Scotia has taken a different approach, holding back second doses and staying with the recommended interval because of low case numbers.
The evidence on the best interval between doses has been changing, and Strang said he expects new guidelines this week.
Strang said it's likely the interval will be extended to more than 40 days. That would mean more people get their first doses, sooner.
Online booking problems resolved
The first community clinics opened for bookings on Monday for Nova Scotians aged 80 and up. About 48,000 people fall into that age category, with 43,000 of them living in community.
Many people were frustrated when they tried to sign up and found the online booking portal down and phone lines jammed.
By the time the online booking portal was back up, every available appointment was taken.
Health officials said the website went down because traffic was twice what had been anticipated.
Further, the province was notified over the weekend that the dosing interval was likely to change, so it decided to cut back on the number of available appointments to avoid having to rebook for as many as 10,000 people based on the new recommendations. Instead just over 2,000 appointments were booked.
To deal with high traffic, the website operator added a holding page to keep people in queue while they wait to book. It's also considering assigning booking times based alphabetically or by birth month.
Once new interval recommendations are issued, 10,000 new appointments will be made available each week.
Everyone 80 and up is expected to have had an opportunity to be vaccinated by early April.
Record high number of tests
The new COVID-19 case reported Tuesday brings the total number of active cases in the province to 29.
The new case is in the northern zone and is a close contact of a previously reported case.
It was the only case detected out of 5,146 tests completed by health authority labs on Monday — a record daily high of completed tests.
Rankin told a news briefing it proves the effectiveness of Nova Scotia's widespread testing strategy.
"Constant and deliberate testing is a key mitigation faction when it comes to COVID-19," he said.
He and Strang continue to urge Nova Scotians to get tested regularly, whether or not they have symptoms of COVID-19.
More variant cases detected
Nova Scotia also reported Tuesday that seven previously reported cases are COVID-19 variants. Two are a variant first reported in the U.K. and five are a variant first reported in South Africa.
There's a lag in identifying variant cases because Nova Scotia has to send samples to the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.
Strang said there is no evidence of community spread from the variant cases.
2 potential COVID-19 exposures announced
On Tuesday, the health authority announced two new potential exposure locations in the central zone:
- H&M Mic Mac Mall (21 Micmac Blvd., Dartmouth) on Feb. 22 between 11:00 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. Anyone exposed may develop symptoms up to, and including, March 8.
- RBC Royal Bank (339 Herring Cove Rd., Halifax) on Feb. 23 between 3:00 and 4:30 p.m. Anyone exposed may develop symptoms up to, and including, March 9.
Anyone who worked at or visited those locations during the specified dates and times should book a COVID-19 test on the self-assessment website or by contacting 811, regardless of whether they have COVID-19 symptoms. If people have symptoms of COVID-19, they must self-isolate while they await test results.
Relief program offered to small businesses
Rankin announced a property tax relief program worth $7 million for small business owners on Tuesday.
Qualified businesses include restaurants and bars, gyms and fitness facilities, hair salons and barber shops, spas, nail salons and body art establishments. Business owners can choose a rebate of $1,000 or 50 per cent of the commercial real property taxes paid for the final six months of the 2020-21 tax year.
The province said 3,300 businesses will qualify.
Even if a business does not own its own building, Rankin said the rebate can apply to any property tax that's included in their lease.